The common story we hear when working with families who are struggling with their child’s selective eating habits is that their child was once a really good eater. When their child approached toddlerhood however, mealtimes became a battle of wills filled with annoyance, anger, disappointment and even tears.

When this shift happens, parents become discouraged and begin to fall into the trap of feeding their child anything, just to get them to eat. As mothers, we know all too well what it feels like to prepare and serve a healthy meal only to be met with resistance and complaints. It’s a desperate feeling to think your child is not eating enough food and it is out of desperation that parents begin to consider giving their children anything, just so they will take in some calories.

It is normal for children to become selective and resistant to new foods and is more beneficial to focus attention on what your child is eating rather than how much. Having this information will help you stay the course, even during those moments of doubt.

How to Make Every Bite Count

  • Toddler’s nutritional requirements and appetites decrease so they are eating far less than they were when they were younger and their eating patterns are highly unpredictable. The most rapid growth in early childhood happens between birth and two years. The average 2-5-year-old only gains 4.5-6.5 pounds annually.
  • A child’s stomach is the size of his or her clenched fist, so the consumption of large quantities of food at once is unrealistic.
  • It is best to look at what a child has eaten over the course of a week rather than a day.
  • The best marker for a child’s eating habits is their overall health and development. If your child is healthy, developing well and demonstrates typical behavior, this is a strong indication that they are in fact getting exactly what they need nutritionally.
  • Fat? Yes. Fat is a critical part of any child’s diet. The brain is still developing at 5 years of age (90% developed) and a child uses more fat for energy than an adult.
  • Developmentally so much is changing in young children’s lives that they begin to desire sameness for security and comfort, and this desire for sameness creates a rigidity around food.
  • Taste buds are more sensitive when you are younger, some foods just don’t taste good.
  • It is developmentally appropriate to experience some food phobia between the ages of 2 and 6. Yes, it is a real thing, called “neophobia”, which is the fear of new foods. Hundreds of years ago it was a good thing because children who were off exploring would not eat harmful things in the environment.
  • During this time in life, children are beginning to gain independence and are aware they are separate from their parents. In order to be separate one must have control, so they begin to control the things they can.
  • Calories are not important, the sources of the calories are very important. All calories are not created equal.

So now you have some of the facts. It is very normal for young children to refuse foods and to eat less. But what they eat does matter. Filling up on snacks that do not have nutrients can impact their health, weight, and development and can actually make them hungrier affecting their mood and disposition. One of the most important things you can do is to understand why your child has become selective and to concentrate on offering them food that is packed with nutrients.

Dealing with Picky Eater Toddlers

  • Watch your child’s eating pattern. Provide them with the most food when they are hungry.
  • Consider only saving “snack foods” when you are on the go.
  • Avoid having your child fill up on juice and milk at or between meals.
  • Add good fats to existing favorite foods. For example, if your child likes French toast, make sure to use pads of butter. If they love dipping offer a nut butter, bean dip or hummus as a dipping sauce.
  • Find the most nutritious version of your child’s preferred food. If they are only eating carbohydrates, make sure to use grain products that are not refined. For example, Kamut pasta, whole wheat pasta, or sprouted wheat bagels.
  • Keep healthy foods readily available so that when your child is hungry you are less inclined to go for convenience food.

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